The civet is a medium sized omnivore around 40 cm high at the shoulder and 90 cm long (excluding the tall), with some canine features and short, partially retractile claws.
Its coat of long coarse hair is basically grey but with a definite and variable pattern of black spots over most of the body, along with two black hands stretching from the ears to the lower neck and two black bands around the upper part of the hind legs. The tail is bushy at the base becoming thinner towards the tip, held out straight when the animal is on the move, and black except for three to four greyish bands near the base. The head is mostly greyish white and the ears are quite small, rounded and tipped with white hairs.
Civet are solitary, nocturnal animals which hide in thickets, tall grass or abandoned burrows during the day and so are rarely sighted. The most likely places to spot one are in Marsabit or Tsavo West reserves, although they are also known to inhabit Nairobi, Amboseli and Masai Mara.
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It has a very varied diet consisting of rodents, birds and their eggs, reptiles, amphibians, snails, insects (especially ants and termites) as well as berries, the young shoots of bushes and fruits.
Litters consist of up to four cubs and these have a similar, though slightly darker colouring.
The other conspicuous feature of the civet is the presence of musk glands in the anal region which produce a foul-smelling oily substance used to mark territory. This musk is used in the manufacture of perfumes; in Western countries it is collected from animals held in captivity.